1. something beneath, behind, or within which a person, animal, or thing is protected from storms, missiles, adverse conditions, etc.; refuge.
  2. the protection or refuge afforded by such a thing: He took shelter in a nearby barn.
  3. protection from blame, incrimination, etc.
  4. a dwelling place or home considered as a refuge from the elements: Everyone’s basic needs are food, clothing, and shelter.
  5. a building serving as a temporary refuge or residence for homeless persons, abandoned animals, etc.
  6. Finance. tax shelter.

verb (used with object)

  1. to be a shelter for; afford shelter to: The old barn sheltered him from the rain.
  2. to provide with a shelter; place under cover.
  3. to protect, as by shelter; take under one’s protection: Parents should not try to shelter their children from normal childhood disappointments.
  4. Finance. to invest (money) in a tax shelter.

verb (used without object)

  1. to take shelter; find a refuge: He sheltered in a barn.
  2. Finance. to invest money in a tax shelterd.


  1. something that provides cover or protection, as from weather or danger; place of refuge
  2. the protection afforded by such a cover; refuge
  3. the state of being sheltered


  1. (tr) to provide with or protect by a shelter
  2. (intr) to take cover, as from rain; find refuge
  3. (tr) to act as a shelter for; take under one’s protection

n.1580s, “structure affording protection,” possibly an alteration of Middle English sheltron, sheldtrume “roof or wall formed by locked shields,” from Old English scyldtruma, from scield “shield” (see shield (n.)) + truma “troop,” related to Old English trum “firm, strong” (see trim). If so, the original notion is of a compact body of men protected by interlocking shields. OED finds this “untenable” and proposed derivation from shield + -ture. Figurative sense is recorded from 1580s; meaning “temporary lodging for homeless poor” is first recorded 1890 in Salvation Army jargon; sense of “temporary home for animals” is from 1971. Related: Shelterless. v.1580s, “to screen, protect,” from shelter (n.); in the income investment sense, from 1955. Meaning “to take shelter” is from c.1600. Related: Sheltered; sheltering.

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